These artists' hunt for studio space ended at the World Trade Center

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These artists' hunt for studio space ended at the World Trade Center
Chase Hall, an artist in residence, with two works in progress at his Silver Art Projects studio in New York, on March 22, 2022. The nonprofit gives artists the space for a year, as well as a $1,200 stipend and mentorship. Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

by Laura Zornosa

NEW YORK, NY.- On the 28th floor of 4 World Trade Center, Tourmaline, a multidisciplinary artist, works from a corner studio that features two walls of windows and a view of the 9/11 memorial. Next door, Tariku Shiferaw has his own space to paint and create installation art.

Both artists benefit from a nonprofit program, Silver Art Projects, that provides artists with free, yearlong studio space in the chrome office tower, as well as a $1,200 stipend and mentorship.

The nonprofit is part of a vast ecosystem of organizations and programs across New York that provides artists with places where they can work, a signature need for artists in a real estate market that has long pushed them to live in cavernous, defunct industrial spaces where the rent is cheap and there is room for both art and furniture — until gentrification sets in.

Other programs providing artists with studio space include the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council — which hosts a nine-month studio residency program at 101 Greenwich St. for emerging artists and a newer three-month residency program on Governors Island.

BRIC provides a 225-square-foot, rent-free studio space for three months in the Brooklyn Cultural District. Chashama, a nonprofit founded by Anita Durst 27 years ago, partners with property owners to turn unused spaces into art studios in all five boroughs.

“A lot of artists, their dream is to come to New York,” Durst said. “This just supports it. And then they’re priced out, so having these spaces allows them to stay.”

Not every program can offer the startling views of the studios provided by Silver Art, which was co-founded by Cory Silverstein, the grandson of the owner of 4 World Trade Center, Larry Silverstein. Cory Silverstein came up with the idea in 2018 in tandem with Joshua Pulman, a friend from college. Silverstein Properties provides 50,000 square feet of space to the nonprofit, which then supplies 28 artists with studios ranging in size from 500 to 1,500 square feet.

“We had this idea of bringing in artists, shifting the paradigm with respect to how artists have been pushed out into the outer boroughs, for the most part, in this almost centrifugal type way,” Silverstein said, “in which folks are going to New Jersey and Brooklyn and Queens and further and further out.”

The Silver Art program began with funding from major donors like the Ford Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies and now seeks to expand beyond that by bringing in an executive director to sustain and grow that financial support.

The new executive director, John Hatfield, has worked in the nonprofit art world for more than 25 years. From 2002 to 2004, Hatfield served as assistant vice president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., focusing on the Sept. 11 memorial planning and selection process. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the city scrambled to see what lower Manhattan would look like, reconstructing transportation and the street grid. The cultural piece took a little longer, but the Silver Art program is key to revitalizing the neighborhood, he said.

Hatfield also spent almost 10 years as executive director of the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens. Before that, he worked at the New Museum for 17 years, including as deputy director for eight years.

“Ultimately, this mission is about the artists,” Hatfield said in an interview. “And part of the job and the role is to elevate Silver Art, thereby also really essentially bringing attention to those artists. That’s the core of everything.”

Silver Art’s current residencies include 25 artists and three mentors — Tourmaline, Hank Willis Thomas and Chella Man — who also have studio space.

The nonprofit has given promising artists an opportunity to expand their craft — and their canvasses — under its 22-foot ceilings. After arriving at Silver Art, Tourmaline had her first solo exhibition, “Pleasure Garden.” She will be exhibiting at Art Basel in June.

Chase Hall, a current artist-in-residence who works in painting and sculpture, was featured in Forbes’ “30 Under 30” 2021 art and style list. His work is held in the permanent collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Jared Owens, who also has a Silver Arts studio this year, is a multidisciplinary artist who taught himself art during more than 18 years of incarceration. His work was exhibited in “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” at MoMA PS1. (Going forward, Silver Art will reserve up to five spaces a year in its residency program for formerly incarcerated artists.)

Pulman said the program has been successful in helping secure gallery representation for most of the artists who entered it without it.

“The ability to bring them into spaces and enable them to cooperate, there’s a huge demand and need for it,” Pulman said of the artists. “And bringing on an executive director for us means that we can sustain the work that we’re already doing with his efforts and connections to foundations and donors.”

It is much more than the view that makes the location of Tourmaline’s studio space significant to her. There is history here, she said, and not just the history recorded at the 9/11 memorial. Nearby is the African Society for Mutual Relief, founded by Black New Yorkers in the early 1800s, which helped widows and orphans, paid burial expenses for its members, and served as a brokerage house to buy real estate.

“It was a place where Black people came together in the midst of a really immense hardship and dreamed of what they wanted, and then moved in the direction of that,” Tourmaline said of the area. “And so it feels definitely emotionally charged, not just from maybe the past 20 years, but definitely the past hundreds of years.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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